Tacoma Defiance reached the quarter-pole of the USL Championship season with their 2-0 win over LA Galaxy II. Unbeaten at home and struggling on the road, Wade Webber’s side has games in hand and a future schedule with four on the road, then four at home for the next quarter.
Let’s assess how they’re doing:
Are they good?
Defiance aren’t great, but they have a couple big wins (3-1 over San Diego; 1-0 over Orange County), are undefeated at home (3-0-1, +5), and are the outperforming the other “deuces” (. At 1.38 points per match they’re in middle of the pack.
FiveThirtyEight doesn’t appreciate Tacoma’s performances, American Soccer Analysis has Defiance right about expectations (and thinks San Diego’s a bit of a mirage).
|Team||Played||Points||PPM||GD||538 pts||ASA xPt|
|Team||Played||Points||PPM||GD||538 pts||ASA xPt|
The Pacific was supposed to be tight, and after the top two, it is. There’d be little surprise in any of the other six making the playoffs. If Defiance make the second season it will because of their teamwork, more than the outstanding performances of a handful of players. Eight matches into the season, 18 players have played in 4 or more games. A total of 28 players have an appearance.
How’s the 3-4-3 working?
Much of what’s worked is their discovery of a suitable formation that both develops roles for the First Team and uses several of the better talents on the squad. The 3-4-3 — which sometimes plays like Seattle’s 3-4-2-1 and sometimes goes with wide forwards — is off to a strong start.
The way those forwards are used may show a path for the Sounders when they have Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodiero back. For Defiance it’s how they get the winger talent on the pitch, while still developing wingbacks and centerbacks for the way the org now plays.
How much are they pressing?
Wade Webber has the team pressing even more than in years past. When it works, it works. When it fails, they give up goals (see the Lights and Switchbacks losses).
In a strong performance, @TACdefiance held LA to just one shot on target, and their stifling high press was a big reason why. As seen below, Tacoma’s front three pressures high as the midfield rose up in support; LA couldn’t play their ground-based build as a result. pic.twitter.com/0QBx7Qre36— john (@USLTactics) June 28, 2021
Especially against other deuces, the press can interrupt the focus of the opponent. Disrupting trained techniques against players without experience destroys their system.
Plus, it can lead to high turnovers, changing the tilt of the field, and nabbing easy goals.
Tacoma’s second goal even came off the press. Two forwards close a man and force a turnover into a midfielder’s feet, and it’s a simple attack against an addled LA from there. Good soccer from an always-competitive Defiance side. pic.twitter.com/GckXBSxBVg— john (@USLTactics) June 28, 2021
Who has next?
Winning isn’t really the point of Defiance — developing talent for the Schmetzer-Lagerwey dynasty is. Tacoma’s already seen Reed Baker-Whiting and Abdoulaye Cissoko sign with the First Team. They aren’t the end of the talent pipeline.
Defiance do not have a standout attacker yet this season as thirteen different players have recorded either a goal or an assist. Alec Diaz remains the forward most likely to get a nod if the organization decides it needs a 4th forward on the MLS roster. Diaz has two goals and his ability to ghost into space while providing solid defense would suit well when surrounded by MLS talent.
Ray Serrano burst out with a two-goal game in the win over Los Dos. He already had an assist. He can play as a winger if Seattle switches up to a 3-4-3 or 4-2-3-1, and has one game starting at wingback. Both Serrano and Diaz are still just 19 and in their fourth season of pro play.
They already lost their best defensive prospect to the Rave Green, but there are two players who could make that next step. And one isn’t an internal promotion. Issa Rayyan’s conversion from winger to wingback is going fairly well. Still with some struggles regarding defensive positioning, Rayyan’s ability to enter the attack might be MLS replacement level already. He’ll get better. Issa came up through the Union Academy, went to Duke for a bit, and signed with Defiance this offseason (age 20, 5th pro season).
The other is Tacoma-grown Eric Kinzner. Kinzer is in just his second year as a pro, with this being the first time that he’s stood out. A natural left-footer, Eric plays the LCB in the 3-4-3. Still refining his off ball defense, there aren’t blatant errors in 2021. His service is solid and like so many in the org he willfully embarrasses forwards when he dribbles them.
How are the new guys doing?
Tacoma and S2 have a history of bringing in a combination of late-bloomers and internationals with promise. Some earn MLS deals (Nouhou, Delem, Dhillon, Cissoko), others earn pro deals with foreign clubs (Daley), or a contract in another MLS organization (Ulysse). This group of players should supplement the pipeline, provide continuity, and serve as a morale stabilizer due to their age.
- Samuel Adeniran — the most exciting potential of the outsiders, Adeniran needs to become a finisher and soon. His pace, power, and ball control are at an MLS level right now, but his finishing hasn’t been particularly consistent. To make the move up, he needs to start scoring regularly.
- Carlos Anguiano — One of Timbers2’s best players las year, the central mid adds defensive bite when he’s in the squad. He seems to be embracing that more defensive role with Defiance than T2’s dreams of an 8/10.
- Tom Brewitt — A revelation along the backline, the one-time Liverpool youth player (under Sounders Academy Director Gary Lewis) offers ball control on the backline and has no issues with just bowling through a man. Brewitt’s also an on-field coach, like Taylor Mueller.
- Christian Herrera — Herrera may only be sixth on Seattle’s goalkeeper depth chart, but that seems to be fine with him. His ceiling doesn’t seem quite as high as some of the others in the organization, but Christian is the best pure USL keeper in Defiance’s history and may just earn himself MLS money from this stint.
- Randy Mendoza — Initial thoughts were that Mendoza would be a both-side wingback/fullback, filling out the roster. Turns out he’s small, but fierce, a kobold willing to go toe-to-toe anywhere in the backline. Randy uses leverage and center-of-gravity better than any Sounders since Fucito.
- Issa Rayyan — the right wingback is a speed and dribbling fiend with some history of nabbing assists and goals at the USL-C level.
What about those loandowns?
No, loandown isn’t a word. Yes, I’m going to keep using it for those guys on MLS deals who play with their MLS2 teams with some regularity. We’ll skip over Jimmy Medranda (he was great) and Stefan Cleveland (fine) and Andrew Thomas (at the halfway point he’ll be on the list) because they only have a single appearance.
- AB Cissoko — Just a joy to watch in defense, strong cutouts, good short passing, and the best penalty taker since Brad Evans. Cissoko rocketed up from unknown to MLS signee in no time.
- Reed Baker-Whiting — RBW’s performances as a central midfielder are strong. As a starting winger he didn’t have the verve needed in attack, but when he moved up in the second half against Galaxy II he looked solid threatening goal.
- Ethan Dobbelaare — Finally starting at right wingback Dobbelaere showed some thought defensively, and was fine in attack. His work as a winger wasn’t threatening enough.
- Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez — The late 2019 AOC is missing. Too often Fonz is receiving the ball with his back to goal rather than sprinting on a ball. He has the footwork to use a dribble to beat a defender, but not when they’re already in his halo.
- Danny Leyva — Maybe I’m spoiled seeing his MLS performances, but Leyva seems to settle down when down. He’s capable of dominating play, and should do that.
- Spencer Richey — A couple misplayed balls early, Richey is the backup keeper to Cleveland now and probably won’t see time with Defiance until they’re home stretch in late July.
Trey Muse and Shandon Hopeau are on loan rather than with Defiance, what’s up?
Trey again is a league leader in saves, without a strong save percentage (16th among keepers with 5 or more starts). He has yet to record a clean sheet this year. Comparing him to the other Sounders keepers with USL Championship experience this season, it looks like Lagerwey & Co made the right decision. Plus, the loan means that Muse, Christian Herrera, Spencer Richey, and Andrew Thomas all get time this year.
Shandon’s been a semi-frequent sub with four appearances off the bench and a single start this year for San Antonio FC. He hasn’t been particularly goal dangerous on a team that is staggering. SAFC was expected to be a challenger for the Mountain Division crown, but instead are treading under the red line. They’ve been a bit better since former Sounder Justin Dhillon came back from injury, but SAFC may be the problem for both of the players.
Other MLS rights controlled players
- Sam Rogers — After trialing with Austin FC Rogers signed with OKC Energy. They’ve used him as both a right back and a centerback. Sam has five starts and two sub appearances earning 420 minutes for the struggling Energy. He’s been much better as a CB than a RB, though on their narrow pitch he makes the role work okay.
- Blake Malone — centerback Malone signed with Orange County last year, but then the pandemic happened. In 2021 he’s with Omaha Union, the USL-1 leaders, where he’s made a single appearance.
- TJ Bush — drafted in 2021 the James Madison keeper is still unsigned by a pro club.
That’s a lot, can you sum up?
Defiance are in the playoff hunt as an average USL Championship side with four prospects who could help an MLS side soon (Forward Diaz, Winger Serrano, Right Wingback Rayyan, centerback Kinzner).
There’s also deeper talent and plenty of reason to think Tacoma could improve over the season.